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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

GENIUS AND STUPIDITY
back at college, contrasted the time-serving vacillations of the
director and the wishy-washy loyalty of the students with their
exact opposites at the Polytechnique. Unable to endure the
humiliation of inaction longer he wrote a blistering letter to the
Gazette des ficoles in which he let both students and director
have what he thought was their due. The students could have
saved him. But they lacked backbone, and Galois was expelled.
Incensed, Galois wrote a second letter to the Gazette, addressed
to the students. 'I ask nothing of you for myself, he wrote: 'but
speak out for your honour and according to your conscience.'
The letter was unanswered, for the apparent reason that
those to whom Galois appealed had neither honour nor con-
science.
Foot-loose now, Galois announced a private class in higher
algebra, to meet once a week. Here he was at nineteen, a crea-
tive mathematician of the very first rank, peddling lessons to
no takers. The course was to have included *a new theory of
imaginaries [what is now known as the theory of "Galois
Imaginaries", of great importance in algebra and the theory of
numbers]; the theory of the solution of equations by radicals,
and the theory of numbers and elliptic functions treated by
pure algebra' - all his own work.
Finding no students, Galois temporarily abandoned mathe-
matics and joined the artillery of the National Guard, two of
whose four battalions were composed almost wholly of the
liberal group calling themselves 'Friends of the People5. He had
not yet given up mathematics entirely. In one last desperate
effort to gain recognition, encouraged by Poisson, he had sent
a memoir on the general solution of equations  now called the
'Galois theory' - to the Academy of Sciences. Poisson, whose
name is remembered wherever the mathematical theories of
gravitation, electricity, and magnetism are studied, was the
referee. He submitted a perfunctory report. The memoir, he
said was 'incomprehensible', but he did not state how long it
had taken him to reach his remarkable conclusion. This was the
last straw. Galois devoted all his energies to revolutionary
politics. 'If a carcase is needed to stir up the people', he wrote,
*I will donate mine.*
D*                                    409